drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A glimpse of rugby's future - physical imposition by big, fast backs.

The Marseille game between France and the All Blacks was a wonderful display of purposeful ball-in-hand rugby and a clear demonstration of the importance of physical dominance in the backs. There was limited but very judicious kicking and a notable absence of the cut-out pass. Players on both sides were prepared to engage tacklers before off-loading.

In the backs the French were outweighed by nearly 7kg per man, putting them at a serious disadvantage in what developed into an intense, fast-paced physical contest. After 20 minutes France led 9-7 courtesy of three penalty goals; however in the final 20 minutes France failed to score while the All Blacks ran in two tries against a very weary defence.

Former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer enthused: "New Zealand is now playing the style of rugby that I love. It is ambitious, confident and accurate in its execution - shorter passes, straight running, finding opportunity on the outside or, when closed off, picking up a support player on the 'natural loop'. Beautiful in its simplicity and effective in its outcome!"

Dwyer pointed out that the All Blacks had exposed the French through the channel between the half and five-eighth, noting that for opportunities to open up out wide, it was important to occasionally threaten, or appear to threaten, through this channel. Significantly, the All Black half, Jimmy Cowan, outweighed his counterpart, Julien Dupuy, by 14kg, while Dan Carter had a 9kg advantage over François Trinh-Duc.

Dwyer rates inside centre Ma'a Nonu as the most improved player in world rugby. While retaining his 'crash and bash' approach he "has added finesse and a real appreciation of the ways to 'fix' defenders and is now a far more difficult proposition altogether." The heaviest back on the field at 104kg, Nonu outweighed Yannick Jauzion by 9kg.

New Zealand, the traditional home of the 'two five-eighths game', has now developed an outstanding backline which features a big, powerful direct-running 12. The players outside Nonu; Conrad Smith, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Cory Jane and Mils Muliaina are all committed to bending or breaking the defensive line when appropriate as well as exploiting defensive gaps. The players also consistently and enthusiastically back one another up.

I am convinced that this Kiwi backline is a forerunner of what will become increasingly common in the next few years. Modern training methods are producing a new generation of seriously big, powerful and quick players. The most effective way of exploiting their comparative advantage is to play a very direct ball-in-hand attack coupled with brick wall defence and to maintain this pattern over the full 80 minutes. Smaller and weaker opponents may be able to withstand this type of pressure for long periods but eventually physical and mental fatigue will cause them to yield.

There will always be a place in rugby for the very skillful smaller player like Matt Giteau, but loading up backlines with physically inferior so-called playmakers, particularly if they are tackle-shy, is not the way forward.

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